2020 Ontario Budget for post-secondary education: Tories continue undermining the system

The best thing a government can do in the height of a recession that is being compounded by a pandemic is invest in the education of its population. Higher education -- when done well -- creates a citizenry who are able to respond to crises and develop the solutions to address the needs of themselves and their communities. Unfortunately, in Ontario we have abandoned support for higher education. Instead, the government is determined to drive an ideological agenda to distort the labour market, make workers pay for job losses, reduce access to higher education, and undermine the advanced education and research system that supports Ontario's economy.

2020 Ontario Budget for post-secondary education: Tories continue undermining the system
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Top Line

  • Growth in spending across all PSE is $200M (~1.9%) to $10.7B
  • $59.5M over three years ($20M/year) on establishing a micro-credentialing system.
  • $466M (over 3 years, $155M per year) to support infrastructure on campuses leveraging federal government infrastructure spending.


The budget includes a continued promise to use government resources to centralize bargaining control to make it harder for workers to get a fair deal.

Wage settlements in the sector have been less than half of private sector wage growth because of legislative attacks on public sector workers, but admission that this has saved barely any money for the government.

Restructuring PSE

The budget is geared to the Progressive Conservatives' plan of privatization and market reform of the university system in Ontario. The explicit goal of destroying any chance of universal access to a broad-based higher education.

The budget offers:

  • No change in direction on implementing flawed metrics-based funding formula which will eventually result $3B to $4B of university budgets in jeopardy.
  • No recognition of the flaws exposed by the crisis in the unsustainable nature of the university funding model or attempt to even examine it.
  • No make-up for loss of revenue from the unfunded 10% tuition fee reduction that hurt university budgets before the recession/pandemic.
  • No support to short-term budget issues for smaller universities due to the pandemic.
  • No recognition that international students are making-up the budget shortfalls through increased tuition fees.
  • $37M in support for students to focus on training for short-term "high-demand" skills (not jobs) of information technology, advanced manufacturing, truck driving, construction and horticulture.
  • Just-in-time and on demand training (paid for by the employee instead of the employer) through micro-credentialing
  • Focusing on high school students to hyper specialize before even leaving high-school.

Analysis of micro-credentialing

The focus of the government is on establishing a new "micro-credential" system which aims to undermine a more expensive (and more useful to the student/workers) broad-based education.

  • Employers are not calling for this and no data backs-up the notion that there is a massive skills shortage for industry in Ontario. It is a "solution" in search of a problem – unless the problem is to respond to the unsubstantiated complaints by capital that workers are too expensive.
  • They commodify skills and downloads the cost of the development of work-specific skills to employees that should be paid for by the employer.
  • The worker/student becomes very tightly attached to extremely short-term labour market desires and make the worker expendable.
  • Students have to continually return when the labour market changes, costing the worker/student more in the long-run, but still denying the student a holistic education.
  • They are entirely driven by advertizing by industry and the universities trying to sell courses.
  • The concept of "just in time" production applied to workers – treating them as expendable tools.
  • Getting the public to foot the bill for what should be on-the-job training done/paid for by the employer.
  • Distorts the labour market and likely will drive-down wages in those jobs tied to "micro-credentials".
  • Universities have a solution: Research and highly-skilled citizens/workers who are resilient to unknown current and future shifts in the needs of the economy.
  • Micro-credentials are trying to take the skills out of broad-based education programs, only to then charge extra for those skills.

This new micro-credentialing is a classist approach to education. Instead of lowering the barriers to higher education, working people are forced to be on their own to chase short-run skills attached to short-term jobs in a rapidly fluctuating labour market without a safety net. Wealthy students on the other hand will be able to pay for a broad university education through regular university degrees and/or full college training programs.